Probe card

Last updated
Probe card.JPG

A probe card is an interface between an electronic test system and a semiconductor wafer. Typically the probe card is mechanically docked to a prober and electrically connected to a tester. Its purpose is to provide an electrical path between the test system and the circuits on the wafer, thereby permitting the testing and validation of the circuits at the wafer level, usually before they are diced and packaged. It consists, normally, of a printed circuit board (PCB) and some form of contact elements, usually metallic, but possibly of other materials as well.


A semiconductor manufacturer will typically require a new probe card for each new device wafer and for device shrinks (when the manufacturer reduces the size of the device while keeping its functionality) because the probe card is effectively a custom connector that takes the universal pattern of a given tester and translates the signals to connect to electrical pads on the wafer. For testing of DRAM and FLASH memory devices these pads are typically made of aluminum and are 40–90 um per side. Other devices may have flat pads, or raised bumps or pillars made of copper, copper alloys or many types of solders such as lead-tin, tin-silver and others.

The probe card must make good electrical contact to these pads or bumps during the testing of the device. When the testing of the device is complete, the prober will index the wafer to the next device to be tested.

Probe cards are broadly classified into needle type, vertical type, and MEMS(Micro Electro-Mechanical System) [1] type depending on shape and forms of contact elements. MEMS type is the most advanced technology currently available. The most advanced type of probe card currently can test an entire 12" wafer with one touchdown.

Normally a probe card is inserted into an equipment called a wafer prober, inside which the position of the wafer to be tested will be adjusted to ensure a precise contact between the probe card and wafer. Once the probe card and the wafer is loaded, a camera in the prober will optically locate several tips on the probe card and several marks or pads on the wafer, and using this information it will can align the pads on the device under test (DUT) to the probe card contacts.

Probe card efficiency is affected by many factors. Perhaps the most important factor impacting probe card efficiency is the number of DUTs that can be tested in parallel. Many wafers today are still tested one device at a time. If one wafer had 1000 of these devices and the time required to test one device was 10 seconds and the time for the prober to move from one device to another device was 1 second, then to test an entire wafer would take 1000 x 11 seconds = 11,000 seconds or roughly 3 hours. If however, the probe card and the tester could test 16 devices in parallel (with 16 times the electrical connections) than the test time would be reduced by almost exactly 16 times. Note that because now the probe card has 16 devices, as the prober touches down on the round wafer, it may not always contact an active device and will therefore be a little less than 16 times as fast to test one wafer.

Another major factor is debris that accumulates on the tips of the probe needles. Normally these are made of tungsten or a tungsten/rhenium alloy although modern probe cards often have contact tips manufactured by MEMS technologies.

Irrespective of the probe tip material, contamination builds up on the tips as a result of successive touch down events (where the probe tips make physical contact with the bond pads of the die). Accumulation of debris has an adverse effect on the critical measurement of contact resistance. To return a used probe card to a contact resistance that is acceptable the probe tips need to be thoroughly cleaned. Cleaning can be done offline using an NWR style laser to reclaim the tips by selectively removing the contamination. Online cleaning can be used during testing to optimize the testing results within the wafer or within wafer lots.

See also

Related Research Articles

Microelectromechanical systems technology of very small devices

Microelectromechanical systems (MEMS), also written as micro-electro-mechanical systems and the related micromechatronics and microsystems is the technology of microscopic devices, particularly those with moving parts. It merges at the nanoscale into nanoelectromechanical systems (NEMS) and nanotechnology. MEMS are also referred to as micromachines in Japan and microsystem technology (MST) in Europe.

Semiconductor device fabrication manufacturing process used to create integrated circuits

Semiconductor device fabrication is the process used to manufacture semiconductor devices, typically the metal-oxide-semiconductor (MOS) devices used in the integrated circuit (IC) chips that are present in everyday electrical and electronic devices. It is a multiple-step sequence of photolithographic and chemical processing steps during which electronic circuits are gradually created on a wafer made of pure semiconducting material. Silicon is almost always used, but various compound semiconductors are used for specialized applications.

Wafer testing is a step performed during semiconductor device fabrication. During this step, performed before a wafer is sent to die preparation, all individual integrated circuits that are present on the wafer are tested for functional defects by applying special test patterns to them. The wafer testing is performed by a piece of test equipment called a wafer prober. The process of wafer testing can be referred to in several ways: Wafer Final Test (WFT), Electronic Die Sort (EDS) and Circuit Probe (CP) are probably the most common.

Automatic test equipment apparatus used in Hardware testing

Automatic test equipment or automated test equipment (ATE) is any apparatus that performs tests on a device, known as the device under test (DUT), equipment under test (EUT) or unit under test (UUT), using automation to quickly perform measurements and evaluate the test results. An ATE can be a simple computer-controlled digital multimeter, or a complicated system containing dozens of complex test instruments capable of automatically testing and diagnosing faults in sophisticated electronic packaged parts or on wafer testing, including system on chips and integrated circuits.

Microfabrication processes of fabrication of miniature structures

Microfabrication is the process of fabricating miniature structures of micrometre scales and smaller. Historically, the earliest microfabrication processes were used for integrated circuit fabrication, also known as "semiconductor manufacturing" or "semiconductor device fabrication". In the last two decades microelectromechanical systems (MEMS), microsystems, micromachines and their subfields, microfluidics/lab-on-a-chip, optical MEMS, RF MEMS, PowerMEMS, BioMEMS and their extension into nanoscale have re-used, adapted or extended microfabrication methods. Flat-panel displays and solar cells are also using similar techniques.

An ohmic contact is a non-rectifying electrical junction: a junction between two conductors that has a linear current–voltage (I-V) curve as with Ohm's law. Low resistance ohmic contacts are used to allow charge to flow easily in both directions between the two conductors, without blocking due to rectification or excess power dissipation due to voltage thresholds.

A device under test (DUT), also known as equipment under test (EUT) and unit under test (UUT), is a manufactured product undergoing testing, either at first manufacture or later during its life cycle as part of ongoing functional testing and calibration checks. This can include a test after repair to establish that the product is performing in accordance with the original product specification.

Test probe

A test probe is a physical device used to connect electronic test equipment to a device under test (DUT). Test probes range from very simple, robust devices to complex probes that are sophisticated, expensive, and fragile. Specific types include test prods, oscilloscope probes and current probes. A test probe is often supplied as a test lead, which includes the probe, cable and terminating connector.

Semiconductor curve tracer test equipment

A semiconductor curve tracer is a specialised piece of electronic test equipment used to analyze the characteristics of discrete semiconductor devices such as diodes, transistors, and thyristors. Based on an oscilloscope, the device also contains voltage and current sources that can be used to stimulate the device under test (DUT).

SPEA is an Italian company that designs and manufactures Automatic Test Equipment (ATE) for testing MEMS, Sensors, microchips and Printed circuit board.

Pogo pin

A pogo pin or spring-loaded pin is a type of electrical connector mechanism that is used in many modern electronic applications and in the electronics testing industry. They are used for their improved durability over other electrical contacts, and the resilience of their electrical connection to mechanical shock and vibration.

Mechanical probe station

A mechanical probe station is used to physically acquire signals from the internal nodes of a semiconductor device. The probe station utilizes manipulators which allow the precise positioning of thin needles on the surface of a semiconductor device. If the device is being electrically stimulated, the signal is acquired by the mechanical probe and is displayed on an oscilloscope or SMU. The mechanical probe station is often used in the failure analysis of semiconductor devices.

In-circuit test (ICT) is an example of white box testing where an electrical probe tests a populated printed circuit board (PCB), checking for shorts, opens, resistance, capacitance, and other basic quantities which will show whether the assembly was correctly fabricated. It may be performed with a bed of nails type test fixture and specialist test equipment, or with a fixtureless in-circuit test setup.

Bead probe technology

Bead probe technology (BPT) is technique used to provide electrical access to printed circuit board (PCB) circuitry for performing in-circuit testing (ICT). It makes use of small beads of solder placed onto the board's traces to allow measuring and controlling of the signals using a test probe. This permits test access to boards on which standard ICT test pads are not feasible due to space constraints.

Non contact wafer testing is a normal step in semiconductor device fabrication, used to detect defects in integrated circuits (IC) before they are assembled during the IC packaging step.

Reliability of semiconductor devices can be summarized as follows:

  1. Semiconductor devices are very sensitive to impurities and particles. Therefore, to manufacture these devices it is necessary to manage many processes while accurately controlling the level of impurities and particles. The finished product quality depends upon the many layered relationship of each interacting substance in the semiconductor, including metallization, chip material and package.
  2. The problems of micro-processes, and thin films and must be fully understood as they apply to metallization and wire bonding. It is also necessary to analyze surface phenomena from the aspect of thin films.
  3. Due to the rapid advances in technology, many new devices are developed using new materials and processes, and design calendar time is limited due to non-recurring engineering constraints, plus time to market concerns. Consequently, it is not possible to base new designs on the reliability of existing devices.
  4. To achieve economy of scale, semiconductor products are manufactured in high volume. Furthermore, repair of finished semiconductor products is impractical. Therefore, incorporation of reliability at the design stage and reduction of variation in the production stage have become essential.
  5. Reliability of semiconductor devices may depend on assembly, use, and environmental conditions. Stress factors affecting device reliability include gas, dust, contamination, voltage, current density, temperature, humidity, mechanical stress, vibration, shock, radiation, pressure, and intensity of magnetic and electrical fields.

Copper–tungsten is a mixture of copper and tungsten. As copper and tungsten are not mutually soluble, the material is composed of distinct particles of one metal dispersed in a matrix of the other one. The microstructure is therefore rather a metal matrix composite instead of a true alloy.

Failure of electronic components Ways electronic elements fail and prevention measures

Electronic components have a wide range of failure modes. These can be classified in various ways, such as by time or cause. Failures can be caused by excess temperature, excess current or voltage, ionizing radiation, mechanical shock, stress or impact, and many other causes. In semiconductor devices, problems in the device package may cause failures due to contamination, mechanical stress of the device, or open or short circuits.

Tokyo Electron Japanese company

Tokyo Electron Limited, or TEL, is a Japanese electronics and semiconductor company headquartered in Akasaka, Minato-ku, Tokyo, Japan.

Circuit Check

Circuit Check is an American company with about 225 employees and seven direct operations in six countries. Headquartered in Maple Grove, Minnesota, it is one of the largest manufacturers of electronic and mechanical test fixtures in North America, . The company also manufactures Automatic Test Equipment for end-of-line manufacturing test. The company uses either a Microsoft Excel-driven "CCITest" software platform, or the National Instruments LabVIEW software platform.


  1. William Mann. ""Leading Edge" Of Wafer Level Testing" (PDF).